Vladimir Putin is Russia's new president. But his election victory is marred by allegations of fraud and opposition groups have called for protests on Monday.
Vladimir Putin has won Russia's presidential election by a large margin - and yet he does not seem quite as safe as the result suggests. On election Sunday, the center of Moscow looked like a fortress under siege. Thousands of police blocked the Kremlin, Red Square and adjoining streets, preparing the square for Putin's evening address to tens of thousands of his supports. The electoral commission announcing the preliminary results was also surrounded by heavy military vehicles.
A clean victory?
According to results so far, two thirds of the 110 million Russians eligible to vote cast their ballot for Putin. His image as a guy who gets things done seems to appeal to many Russians. "I voted for him, because he is a strong leader," an old lady at one of Moscow's polling stations told DW. No one in Russia doubts that Putin by far is the most popular politician in the country. But was this vote really as free and fair as the new president told his cheering supporters on Sunday night?
The opposition doesn't think so. The election was not legitimate, said communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov, who according to early results only got just under 20 percent. The entire state apparatus has worked only for Vladimir Putin, Zyuganov said, and he and his supporters claim there were many irregularities and cases of vote rigging.
Tens of thousands of Russians volunteered as election observers during the poll - one of them was 24-year-old businessman Yakov Lifshiz from Moscow. At a polling station in a school in Moscow he claims he did note irregularities. "In the voting lists there were tags marking certain names. He brought this to the attention of the head of the polling station and then the tags were removed," says Lifhiz who also filmed the incident with his smartphone.
Thousands of irregularities
It is reports by election observers like Lifshiz that are the basis for several NGOs accusing the authorities of election irregularities. Thousands of cases have been reported. For the first time, web cams were used to monitor the polling stations and Elena Bytshkova of the NGO "For Free Elections" said she saw on the web cams how ballots were stuffed into the ballot boxes before the station had actually opened.
Observers from the group "Golos" also reported several irregularities. The cases were more sophisticated than during the December 2011 parliamentary polls. Many of the alleged cases of election fraud were busloads of people who were simply brought to different polling stations so they could vote several times.
Yet the central election commission is skeptical, cautioning that - while there's a lot of talk about irregularities - there's not been any proof so far. "They just want to make a lot of noise and draw attention to themselves," deputy election supervisor Stanislav Vavilov said in a reference to the NGOs' complaints.
After the vote, tensions are rising in Moscow. Massive protests are being expected on Monday. The group "For Free Elections," which has already staged big protests in the past few months, has announced a big rally on Monday evening. Some 10,000 people are expected to attend.
The protests will mostly have a symbolic function, most experts agree. But it remains to be seen whether peaceful protests will be tolerated. No one expects a second "Orange Revolution" akin to what happened in Ukraine after the 2004 elections. Authorities have made clear that they wouldn't accept this. The deputy interior minister has threatened consequences for anyone trying "to turn an approved demonstration into an illegitimate march."
Future President Putin has also already indicated he will take a tough stance against demonstrators. Just ahead of the vote he accused the opposition of plotting murder to create more tensions. Opposition politician Boris Nemtsov warned of bad omens for future protests. Many are worried that peaceful protests can turn violent in confrontations with security forces.
Lubyanka square in Moscow is expected to be one of the hotspots on Monday. It's where the headquarters of the Russian security service, the FSB, are located. Authorities have banned all protests in the square but a group of leftist activists have already said they will defy the ban. As things stand, the situation in Moscow after the elections remains explosive.
Author: Roman Goncharenko / ai
Editor: Richard Connor